hump day island hop

woven wall The rainy season has come early so before it gets too wet to enjoy Malaysia's beaches, we're taking advantage of a last minute deal and heading to Redang Island off the east coast. We haven't been to that part of the country yet but we're told that the snorkeling is some of the best in the world. While in LA I bought this adventure camera (I was beating up my DSLR waaaay too much) so I can't wait to give it its first dip in the sea.

I'll be back here on Monday with an exciting announcement and giveaway but in the meantime you can come along with me via Instagram. Have a great rest of your week!

photo woven wall, bali  by Ana Maria Munoz

frontier land

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I'm going to try keep this one short and sweet because I'm not sure that words can compete with scenes like this. That and it's Friday!

The trip was incredible. Getting to be with Joe's family, eating delicious local fish (and the best sweet bun of my life!), and simply seeing the places and things that Joe grew up with. He may have left Anchorage for bigger cities and new experiences but I think it's really special that he knows all about the rugged stuff us city people are typically clueless about ... I also think that it makes him extra hot, too.

Aside from being smitten with my man, I was in love with being in the great outdoors. I spend so much time in air conditioning in KL that being out in the purest of pure air was well, a breath of fresh air! We hiked, I got eaten alive by mosquitoes (didn't love that part so much), we picnicked, and even got married again. Yep, we had a second ceremony with his family who couldn't be with us in Colombia. It was awesome to stand and say our vows on the back deck that Joe built years ago. One time at his family's home and one at mine - perfect.

The final big day was spent out on a boat seeing glaciers, icebergs, sea otters, and American bald eagles. There was beauty everywhere. The varying colors of the water from deep turquoise blue to green and the purples of the mountains brightened by the hovering grey fog ... it felt magical and peaceful beyond belief. I was so thankful for Joe's brother for hooking us up with an amazing captain and guide who let us get close to it all - we got off the boat to get a better view of a glacier and also pulled up to an iceberg to rub it for good luck. I made up the part about good luck but c'mon, something that has particles from the last ice age has got to have amazing energy behind it!

I already can't wait to go back. Everyone who's ever been there and told me that it was a beautiful and amazing place was absolutely right. The last frontier does not mess around.

ubud we do bali?

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Other than Thailand, Bali was always the first place that came to mind when thinking of this part of the world (that is before we moved here). Bali seems to do an incredible job at promoting tourism and those who go there seeking a spiritual destination can definitely find something amongst all of the temples - old and new - and the never ending green landscapes.

Our destination was Ubud, a town made famous by the film Eat Pray Love. Though we didn't partake in sunrise yoga, meditation, or scenic bike rides, we did fill up on local food, drinks, and sights. With only 50 hours on the clock (including sleeping), we knew that we weren't going to see and experience everything, so we made a conscious decision to take it easy and enjoy whatever we came across and felt the urge to do.

The town center was perfect for our time allowance - lots of restaurants, shops, and great spots to relax with a cold drink and a view of rice paddy fields. Our hotel was right in the heart of it all but still felt remote and peaceful. The yummy breakfast delivered to our room every morning and enjoyed on the balcony was perfection.

Just a short walk off of the main roads gave us a glimpse of how new mass tourism development really is in Ubud; there were villas and small hotels being built on dirt roads that were being primed for cement. Ubud has been uber discovered and I can imagine the town center being crazy-packed with visitors and locals alike during the high season. We got lucky by stumbling into the low period because it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. Not counting the reggae bar on Saturday night (a very impressive Bob Marley tribute, fyi), most restaurants and bars were empty. Not good for them but great for us.

For our only full day there, we booked a tour through our hotel so that we could get out of town and visit Mount Batur, see rice paddy terraces, and check out a temple or two. I had it in my head that "tour" meant guide, but really we just got a driver. It would have been great to have a guide share details about Hindu symbolism and discuss the local economies but that's precisely when having a smart phone and Google comes in handy - on the spot knowledge! Of course I could buy guide books but I'm way better at understanding something on the spot when it grabs my attention rather than reading it in advance. I would just be like "you know, that thing that means that thing when it's pointing right or left..."

The temples and rice paddy terraces were definitely worth a visit (gorgeous and green like you've probably heard a bazillion times) but Mount Batur was my standout favorite. We had lunch at a restaurant looking out at the largest caldera I have ever seen in my life. I'm talking Land Before Time status with three active volcanoes (Mount Batur) in the dead center. It's the kind of thing that makes you think "damn, nature is crazy." My photo hardly does the area justice because it truly is a giant bowl of sunken land and it is awesome.

Getting to and from all of these spots was my second favorite. The drive alone was interesting in that you get to see how much craft is still happening in the country. We drove past countless wood carvers, masons, potters, weavers, you name it, all with road side stores and workshops. Aside from some questionable items that were everywhere - you know, the kind that could be mass produced somewhere else and branded locally - you could be sure that most of the goods for sale were genuinely made in Bali. If only I could have packed one of those large ornate wood doors into my carry-on ... they were stunning and crazy enough, a dime a dozen. That's how many skilled hands are still working there. At least that's the impression I got compared to other places we've been to, I could be totally wrong. I should Google it.

With all of the above on offer, the only shopping we did was at Ikat Batik - a beautiful shop full of naturally dyed and hand woven textiles. I think we were so satisfied with our purchases there on the first day that everything else didn't seem appealing enough to bring home. That means that I didn't find anything to share with you like last time but I trust that you'll understand the main reason for it: with limited time just before leaving for the airport it was either A) experience a traditional Balinese massage for $18 (mid-range price if you can believe it!) or B) walk around in the heat to shop. It just had to be A. If I didn't do the yoga, the meditation, or the bike riding, I was sure as hell going to partake in the art of the Balinese massage :)

 

phu quoc & saigon

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... a few weeks later and we finally have photos from our trip to Vietnam! It was our second time there (remember our early honeymoon?) so we mixed in some beach time with city culture.

Most of the trip was spent at Mango Bay Eco Resort, in Phu Quoc. It was a complete 180 from our experience in Con Dao in that even though they both boast an eco-friendly environments, Mango Bay was bare bones. No A/C, no phone in the room for room service, outdoor toilet, and unfortunately really crappy bed and pillows. However, the setting was gorgeous and it still felt indulgent with it's own grown-up summer camp vibe. We ate, lounged, and ate some more but my favorite part was spending the day out on the water while Joe and other guests snorkeled. I stayed on board due to my recent LASIK surgery so instead of swimming with the fish, I was invited to join the guides in catching them instead. I did pretty well - four total! The water was beautiful and warm and that night I went to sleep still feeling the rocking of the boat. Luckily it was more soothing than it sounds.

After three nights in Phu Quoc we headed to Ho Chi Minh City, or as tried and true locals still call it, Saigon. My first impression was "wow, it looks like a mini Europe but with all Vietnamese people!". The French influence and architecture is still very much present in the old districts as are the wide streets lined with trees - a rare sight in South East Asia. When Joe and I hopped onto motor bikes with our guides for a night tour we were instantly impressed with the ease of getting around. Everyone was so relaxed about riding motorbikes and most of all courteous. I'm sure locals might think differently (or even other tourists visiting SEA for the first time) but now coming from KL where people (mostly male) drive their bikes at crazy speeds and seem to always try to hit you, Saigon felt more like a pleasant bike ride in the park. There were so many more women on the road, even ones dressed up in fancy work clothes. It's just the norm and it's awesome.

The biggest treat was the next day when our guide took us to the building where an American helicopter evacuated people during the fall of Saigon. It was crazy to think of the iconic image and then look up/down and realize that we were standing on top of history. The location isn't advertised to tourists nor is it generally open to the public so if you want in, give Bao a call.

We had to catch our flight home that afternoon so with other cultural spots to see, the day was jam packed but well worth it. It was our first time hiring a guide during holiday and I don't think it will be the last. We did it mainly because we had less than 24 hours in the city and expected that there would be a lot to see. And unlike traveling in Europe where we're more familiar with the history, culture, and where cities tend to be easier to navigate, we've realized that we need a little extra help in this part of the world. Ubud, Bali is next for a long weekend so we'll see how we do there!

Have you ever traveled with a guide? What was your experience?

 

 

weekend, we

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Hi guys, I hope you had a great weekend.

Things got so hectic that I wasn't able to do a Friday post but if you follow me on Instagram, you know that we snuck away to Kota Kinabalu, in Sabah, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo.

We're on a mission to take advantage of living in Southeast Asia before we wake up from this dream and realize that it's too late to explore it all. So, we're trying to do and see as much as we can during the weekends while still enjoying our home in KL. Not the worst challenge in the world, right? Game on!

Kota Kinabalu, or KK as locals call it, is the capital city of Sabah. Because of that I expected a big city like KL but to my delight, the downtown area where we stayed was really small, walkable, and best of all, right by the ocean. We've heard amazing things about hiking Mount Kinabalu but since we only had two full days there we decided that we'd save the jungle trekking for another trip and enjoy the islands.

And enjoy we did! There are five islands just off of the mainland and with one main jetty to book a water taxi from, it was super easy to get to and from any of them. A fifteen minute ride on a speed boat took us to Pulau Sapi, or Sapi Island. Most of the people there were part of package deals that include a catered BBQ so with all of them crowded by the main beach, Joe and I set off to find a place of solitude elsewhere on the tiny Island. Our first attempt at following a designated trail was a miss so we decided to try something different. Instead of walking through the jungle we made our way through the rocky shores around the southwestern part of the island. It was easy to do but we were definitely thankful to have our Ring Cozies on since we had to climb up and over some really rough rocks (yes - had to plug Ring Cozy since it works SO well!).

All was good until Joe pointed out a cool prickly aloe-type plant growing out of a rock wall. I looked, said "wow", and then my eyes instantly went to a GIANT lizard right underneath it!  I'm talking 6ft long, prehistoric, big bodied, long-tongue looking lizard. I flipped out and ran into the water. It took Joe about ten seconds to see it because when I screamed "lizard!" he thought that I meant a small one like we're used to seeing - that's how well camouflaged that thing was. Once Joe saw it too, we were both outta there and he said that I should have yelled "GODZILLA!" instead.

Godzilla was immediately forgotten as soon as we walked a few more feet and found a slice of heaven. Aside from a woman who swam up from her privately chartered boat for a bit, we had a little stretch of sand all to ourselves. We joked about all the suckers we left behind on the crowded main beach. But, it wasn't total perfection. There were jellyfish particles in the water that stung like a really bad case of razor burn when I swam for too long, so I stuck to beach-side lounging.

When it was time to leave I was on high lizard-alert and while we didn't see the big one we first saw, we saw another one in the water just beneath the rocks we were climbing (eeekkk!!!). Joe took some photos as I pleaded "okay hunny, I think you got the shot. Let's gooooo!". It was only after that, on our return back to the main beach, that we saw an old rusted sign on the ground that read "AWAS" which means "BEWARE" in Bahasa Malay. Whomever put that sign there probably knows about the Godzilla family that stalks the shores...

At the end of the day were lucky that we got to enjoy that gorgeous little private beach without any real problems. Otherwise, we could have ended up being the suckers who left the main beach! Totally worth it. During lunch at another island, Pulau Mamutik, we Googled 'the lizards of Sapi' and learned that the ones we saw were Monitor Lizards. I think we'll stick with calling them Godzilla.

 

show & tell: souvenirs from colombia

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What's a trip without bringing home a few souvenirs?

These treasures from Colombia - a beautiful representation of the weaving done by indigenous women of the country - are adding so much life to our home ... and my wardrobe.

The blue cross-body bag's leather was stitched in Bogota but the colorful strap was woven by the Wayuu women who are known for their large bucket-style purses and skillful hamacas. The home accessories were made by women of the Waounan tribe in the department of Choco. The palm fibers used to create these beauties are woven so tightly that the vase piece we bought could hold water without leaking! Amazing.

The one store we loved unfortunately doesn't have a website. Such a shame since their products were all so modern leaning and tastefully done and displayed. But, if you find yourself in Cartagena, their address and phone is below. If you'd like to shop for a vase of your own online, here are some shops that carry an assortment: one, two, three.

Colombia Artesanal Centro, Callejon De Los Estribos No. 2-40, Cartagena 301-788-8108

stay-cation, we

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Hi guys, how was your weekend?

We had a great little getaway ... down the street. Literally, we could see our apartment from our hotel room!

Have you ever done a stay-cation? This was our first one and we loved it. One bag for the both of us, a five minute cab ride door to door, and plenty of time to enjoy the hotel without having to be anywhere else - it was the easiest trip ever.

We stayed at the new Grand Hyatt here in KL, a place that we've grown very fond of. We find ourselves dining at one of their restaurants at least once per week (the Malaysian restaurant, JP Teres, is ridiculously good and affordable) and we're big fans of the spa.  The only thing left to try was staying there as hotel guests so we figured, why not! The service there has always been great and the photos of the rooms looked really inviting.

And also, a main motivation to go for it was a deep desire to make up for our experience at the Sofitel Santa Clara in Cartagena, Colombia. That place was so overrated. Between the underwhelming rooms and the lackluster customer service, the value was simply not on par with what we paid for it (and I felt awful that our friends also stayed there with us). I'll give them the nice big pool but otherwise we've never been so disappointed. Please don't ever waste your money there.

Perhaps we're spoiled now by South East Asian hospitality but regardless, we were left feeling like we needed to have a good experience elsewhere ASAP. Thank god that the Grand Hyatt delivered because otherwise I would have been shattered. I'm seriously so in love with that hotel that it's creepy! I guess that sort of thing is bound to happen when you live in a city-center like KLCC where most services and dining options are either in a shopping mall, a business/residential tower, or in a hotel. When in Rome right? In this case, when in KL - home of the cheapest 5-star hotels in the world.

Where have you stay-cationed before? Or, Where would you want to go and what would you do in your city?

 

viva colombia

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Happy Friday guys! I'm wrapping up the week with the last snaps from our trip to Colombia. Looking over all of these brings a HUGE smile to my face.

From the gorgeously green Coffee region where we indulged in natural thermal hot springs and rode horses through a landscape that looks straight out of Dr. Seuss, to Cartagena where colonial charm oozes out of every nook and cranny inside its old fortress walls.

I feel so lucky to have been able to share a bit of my culture with the friends and family who flew down for the wedding. I can only hope that these photos whet your appetite to go explore Colombia one day, too!

We're going to do a stay-cation this Saturday. Literally, we're staying at a hotel two blocks away! We figured that we can't live in a city with the cheapest five star hotels in the world and not try at least one of them. Have a great weekend!

Oh and if you missed them - check out the dots when you hover over images in this post for captions.

the i do's + the fiesta

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We had seriously discussed eloping somewhere fabulous in South East Asia but as I sat in my parents' room, doing my hair and makeup and looking at family photos, I couldn't have felt happier to be getting ready to say "I do" at our finca with friends and family by our side.

The only thing we needed to make that happen was the groom and officiant (aka my dad). Joe and my dad had left for a quick errand and hotel guests pick-up when the car broke down with everyone in it. Meanwhile at the finca, it started to rain. Long story short, they made it back just half an hour late, the clouds parted, and the sun came out. Everything from then on was perfect.

Joe made his grand entrance with the donkey from next door and ponchos in tow (not traditional or symbolic in any way, he just wanted to feel like Juan Valdez). And I walked out wearing a dress that we bought while on holiday in Melbourne and my favorite Spanish espadrille wedges. I wasn't even going to try to top the donkey entrance.

We said our I do's, smiled, hugged, and kissed a whole bunch. For dinner we feasted on the best tamales in the world and enjoyed an impressive thundershower while sitting in candle light. Then finally, it was time to bring out the Aguardiente - Colombia's drink of choice. As the shots settled in and made us feel all warm and fuzzy, my aunts surprised us with a traditional Colombian musical group that brought everyone to their feet. Joe and I even had an impromptu "first dance" which involved a lot of jumping around and twisting and turning. It was pretty amazing considering I usually have to beg and plead with him to join me on the dance floor (how quickly marriage changed him).

The rest of the night was flat out fun. We had the best time. With our friends and family present, and of course, plenty of Aguardiente to keep the celebration going...we couldn't have asked for anything more. A simple I do accomplished.

the setting

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Happy Friday, guys! I hope you had a great week. I'm feeling all caught up with work and the home front so now I can start sharing more photos from Colombia. Woo hoo!

These are from the wedding reception setup in the corridor of our finca. Aside from the table and chair rentals, everything we used had a special and personal touch. And...it was all super simple and easy which is just our style.

For the tables, leftover bamboo from a separate house project was cut to create the centerpiece vases (thanks, grandpa!). Instead of buying flowers elsewhere, I opted to used the bougainvillea from the same cluster of plants where we said our vows. It felt right to bring them to the table and the colors really popped against the yellow walls with the mixed arrangements that my aunt Kristina created.

Another aunt brought the tea lights that we placed on remnant terra cotta tiles found in storage, complementing the natural bamboo and burlap already on the table. And to top off the setting, I wrapped biodegradable forks and knives in my favorite napkins that I felt would be perfect for re-using at the finca for future gatherings.

As much as I loved all of the above, my absolute favorite part of the setup was the cupcake table. My mom made the cupcakes and was also the genius behind the display stands that were made using bamboo, cut-to-size wood, thick twine, and burlap place mats. Nothing a glue gun couldn't handle! And of course, the gorgeous tropical arrangement with flowers from the property that brought the whole table to life.

Everything came together so well by using what we had on-hand and getting creative. It was all so fitting for the casual affair and spirited nature of the day, we couldn't have been happier. Gracias familia for pitching in and making it happen!

Wedding photos coming up next week. Have a good one!

(photos 2 and 3 by Katherine Apolinar)

bienvenidos

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Welcome to our finca, my family's country home in Pereira, Colombia! Before I get to sharing wedding photos I wanted to show you why we chose to get married there. It's not just because it was free or because we had our pick at fresh fruit and eggs all day and everyday, but because it is beautiful and tranquil beyond belief. And...it's our casa.

This is where we spent a good part of our trip prepping for the wedding, relaxing, eating and simply enjoying each other's company. My parents have been painstakingly renovating and decorating it for the past ten years and though they still have big plans for it, it's already perfect in my eyes. It's nature all over...the flowers, plants, fruit trees, free range chickens, ducks, dogs, neighboring farm animals and our reliable entertainment, tropical birds. Bird watching alone made me forget all about internet access and what happened on The Walking Dead that week. Joe had his fair share of hamaca (hammock) naps and I just loved being around my mom and dad, seeing what they were up to, enjoying the proximity for impromptu hugs and kisses to/from them.

The finca has all of the collected touches that my parents taught me to appreciate. They made every effort to bring antique and country-style finds that they had bought while living in LA for the one day that they moved back to Colombia and could really make the finca the home they always wanted it to be. So much has been made by hand, too, with materials found around the property and a little ingenuity. My mom and dad are so creative that I can't wait to see what the place looks like in a few years. But of course, we won't be waiting that long to go back. Joe was scheming up ways to work there as the innkeeper and maintenance help just so that we could stay! You neevvveerrr know.

If you're planning on visiting Colombia (which you totally should if it's not already on your 'places to go' list) my parents will soon be posting the finca on Airbnb and offering guided day trips around the Coffee Triangle. They are the most amazing people that I know so yes, staying with them comes highly recommended, bias or not :)

 

 

a year's worth of wanderlust II

This time of year always makes me reflect and one of the things that I'm most grateful for are the opportunities we've had to travel. We set out to live internationally for many reasons but traveling was/is priority numero uno. Looking back, I think we did a good job a sticking to our plan even though some days it feels easier to just veg out at home! Here are my fave moments, sights, and thoughts from our 2012 travel adventures....

Breaking away from Europe and landing in Marrakech. High hopes and expectations were met with a chaotic Medina with a character all its own.IMG_9915

Passed Berber Villages in the Atlas Mountains and seeing nothing but beautiful vistas. And snow. Who would have thought Africa had snow?!IMG_0120

Sipping on fresh mint tea while picking out our new/old Berber rug...the perfect souvenir!rug shopping

Our first LA visit together and indulging in three things: In N Out burgers, Mexican tacos, and fresh American donuts. This photo was from our morning binge session while doing loads of laundry next door.LA day _ weekend_3

Re-discovering the cool designs and colors found in LAgarage design, manhattan beach los angeles

Taking a quick break from LA to Anchorage, Alaska for a visit with Joe's parents. It was so awesome to be in the house he grew up in and see his childhood town.walking on a frozen pond

a day-trip to Oxford - LOVED it there. For you Hogwarts fanatics - their cafeteria is just off to the left.weekend_oxford_4

Stopping in Florence en route to Chianti. It's so true that the entire city is a museum.

enjoying an impromptu lunch overlooking vineyards near Greve Chianti. Hands down my fave meal of the trip...for sentimental reasons, mainly, because the other meals were aawweesooomme.italy_2

a "booze and chocolate tour" of Brussels with some sight-seeing on the side. A flea market was also involved - this one was one of the most legit I've been to.

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Leaving our love-lock in Paris as we wrapped up our time in London.paris

Our first trip after moving to KL: Penang. So colorful and vibrant.penang by Ana Maria Munoz

and with charming old character everywhere you look.penang by Ana Maria Munoz

Piggy-backing on one of Joe's business trips to Bangkok and exploring by boat.bangkok long boat

Visiting Singapore for the first time and wishing we had moved there instead since it was so clean, organized, and seemingly perfect. It was during a rough point in my new-home adjustment but now love and appreciate the imperfect and real character of KL.

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The beach holiday that ruined it for any other ones in the future. Con Dao, Vietnam was utter perfection. Honeymoon is done and done. Untitled

Going back to LA to give these little ones hugs and kisses and begin research on my new venture. Untitled

Making a long-weekend out of Joe's business trip to London. We'll take any amount of time there, no matter how long the flight. Plus, Joe needed to stock up on his favorite Whisky and you can pack more with two people + checked bags than you can with one ;) Image 1 Image 3

The unexpected layover in Abu Dhabi from London. I did my best to make the most of my 48 hours there despite major jet-lag (I was only one week back from LA!)Abu Dhabi

Getting to know and love the bits of Melbourne that give it it's reputation as a hub for good coffee shops and interesting street art.

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Hanging out in Bondi Beach where I used to splash around as a toddler. Can't believe that we used to live just down the road. Part of me wonders what it would have been like to grow up there and be a little beach bunny...

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... or just dance around The Opera House all the time...sydney opera house at night

...and with Australia, that brings us to a wrap!

But we won't be idle for too long. With the US, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa covered in one year (that is cray cray!) it's only fitting that we kick off 2013 with South America in February. Yep, I cannot wait to visit my parents in Colombia and say our "I Do's" with family, friends, and buñuelos!

I'm so thankful for this beautiful year....and to you guys for sharing it with me. I'll stop before I get all sappy but know that interacting with you via this blog, twitter, instagram, email is such a joy. And if you just joined me this year, you can catch up on where we went in 2011 by clicking here. Oh, the places we will go......